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Congress reaches out to Paswan

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, FEB. 27. With the results vaulting the Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) into a position to determine the formation of the next Government in Bihar, the Congress lost little time in making contact with its ally in the United Progressive Alliance.

Ahmed Patel, political secretary to the Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, spoke to the LJP leader and Union Minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, who is expected to reach here tomorrow for a meeting with the party's central leadership. Ms. Gandhi, it is said, also spoke to the CPI(M) leader, Sitaram Yechury.

Notwithstanding Mr. Paswan's stand that he would neither support the Rashtriya Janata Dal nor the Bharatiya Janata Party to form the next government, the Congress is confident that a secular alliance would be in a position to form the Government in Bihar and Jharkhand.

"We would want to form a secular Government in Bihar and we have worked for it. We were aware of the anti-establishment vote and that is why we kept the alliance loose," the AICC general secretary, Ambika Soni, told correspondents after a meeting Ms. Gandhi had with senior leaders this evening.

She preferred not to offer any comment on Mr. Paswan's suggestion that Bihar could well do with a spell of President's rule. The LJP's stand was primarily on account of its opposition to both the RJD and the BJP.

The Congress said the BJP could not claim that the mandate was in its favour. "I do not see the results as anti-Lalu vote nor as one for the BJP. They (BJP-JD-U) have not got the mandate to rule," Ms. Soni said.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), an ally of the RJD is against bringing the State under Central rule. "Soon after a democratically conducted elections, all attempts should be made to form a Government,'' the CPI(M) Polit Bureau member, Sitaram Yechury, said.

The party would extend outside support to form a secular government in Bihar and that in its assessment the RJD had emerged both as the single largest party and a group ahead of the BJP-Janata Dal (United) combine.

Echoing a similar view, the CPI national secretary, D. Raja, said that had all secular allies contested together, the BJP-JD (U) would have lost. At least now, the UPA constituents should come to some agreement so that a secular government could be formed in Bihar.

Besides reaching out to Mr. Paswan, the Congress leaders have also opened channels of communication with some independents who would be inclined to support a secular formation, party sources said.

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